Is your white-faced canine ignoring you when you call? Or, is your fussy feline even crankier than normal? Hearing and vision loss, pain from arthritis, and a variety of other changes can occur as our pets age. Changes in behavior are common in aging pets, and those changes often stem from underlying medical conditions, including one that is frequently overlooked: cognitive dysfunction.
Commonly referred to as “doggy dementia,” cats can also suffer from cognitive decline. Many signs of cognitive dysfunction are brushed off as normal signs of aging. But, with appropriate treatment, pets suffering from cognitive dysfunction can enjoy their golden years as happy members of the household.
Signs of cognitive dysfunction
As our pets age and their bodies wear, changes in behavior are typically the first signs of issues like arthritis, kidney disease, congestive heart failure, cognitive dysfunction, and other disease processes. And, pinpointing the cause—especially when it’s mental and not physical—can be difficult.
The widely accepted acronym, “DISHA,” can help characterize the most common signs of cognitive dysfunction.
- Disorientation — Disorientation can be noticed most commonly while your pet is in a familiar environment. You may notice that your canine companion goes to the wrong door when asked if she wants to go outside, or waits at the wrong side of the door for it to open. Both cats and dogs may become “lost” or get stuck behind furniture in rooms where they usually don’t spend much time. Pets can stare blankly at walls and appear confused.
- Interactions — You may notice that your pup, who was once the most popular pooch on the block, isn’t keen on visiting her canine pals anymore. Maybe your snuggly kitty no longer wants to curl up on your lap and has instead taken to hiding in the closet. As cognitive changes occur, your pet may withdraw from family members and shun interaction, especially in loud or stressful situations.
- Sleep-wake cycle — One of the most frustrating symptoms of cognitive dysfunction is a complete reversal of your pet’s normal sleeping routine. She may be up all night, pacing the hallway, or she might wake you up by crying at three in the morning.
- House soiling — Challenging to attribute to either a physical or a mental cause, inappropriate elimination is also another common sign associated with aging. Arthritis, kidney disease, and bladder weakening can undoubtedly cause many accidents in the home. If bloodwork and a urinalysis have ruled out these physical causes, changes in cognitive function are often to blame.
- Activity level — A decrease in activity level is normal as pets age, but it becomes abnormal when a pet is no longer interested in her normal activities. She may not greet you at the door, or maybe she stops playing with her favorite toys. Also, repetitive motions, such as head bobbing, pacing in circles, or leg shaking, are a hallmark sign of cognitive dysfunction.
While unfortunate, these signs are not untreatable. There are many supplements, medications, and environmental modifications that can help slow the progression of cognitive decline in your pet.
Treatment for cognitive dysfunction
The earlier cognitive dysfunction is diagnosed, the better chance we have at slowing its progression. Treating early provides your pet with the highest quality of life throughout her golden years. When starting a treatment regimen for cognitive dysfunction, look for these key components:
- Environmental factors — Implementing some changes to your home can provide a huge benefit to your pet.
- Close off closets and unused rooms so your pet cannot become lost
- Provide warm, soft resting areas away from noise and stress
- Refrain from rearranging furniture so your pet is not confused
- Keep feeding and walking routines the same
- Mental and physical stimulation — The phrase “use it or lose it” also pertains to the brain. Treat puzzles, games, training sessions, and interactive toys all help keep your pet’s mind sharp. Promoting positive social interactions and grooming sessions also stimulates your pet’s cognitive function.
- Supplements, medications, and diets — Diets rich in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids promote cell health and keep the brain functioning normally. There are also a number of geriatric supplements and medications available to help prevent the degeneration of mental capacities. Based on your pet’s medical history and signs of cognitive decline, we’ll recommend an appropriate supplement or medication.
Is your pet getting stuck in corners? Howling at all hours of the night? Lashing out at her favorite person? Call us at 704-971-2075 to begin tackling these tricky issues.